Since Meghan Markle and Prince Harry married in May, a number of news pieces have emerged on how the American is expected to behave now that she is a member of the British royal family. Commentators have drawn attention to royal traditions that guide what to eat (no garlic), how a female member of the royal family should dress while in public with the Queen (favouring pastels and neutral colours) and how she should sit (preferably by crossing legs at the ankles or practising the “duchess slant”).
Etiquette matters. What’s more, etiquette spans a broad range of behaviours, choices and actions. It includes body language, manners, appearance, interpersonal skills and official protocol. In the public eye, following etiquette and protocol is key to both demonstrating and earning respect. However, etiquette is needed not only by royals, politicians and diplomats. It is a universal language that facilitates daily interactions in business and in society, including for restaurant managers, bar managers and other customer-facing professionals in the catering industry. But how do you learn etiquette?
In the Western world, many examples of modern-day etiquette can be traced back to the French royal court of the 17th Century. More recently, in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Switzerland gained worldwide recognition as a leader in etiquette education, with many high-profile international students, such as Diana, Princess of Wales, attending Swiss finishing schools. Today, even though finishing schools are no longer as common as they once were, etiquette is no less important. In fact, good etiquette is essential for business success. According to research conducted by the Carnegie Foundation, just 15% of professional success depends on technical skills and job knowledge, while 85% depends on interpersonal skills. Meanwhile, in a survey conducted by Accountemps, 65% of managers and 46% of workers believed that being courteous can accelerate career advancement.
Etiquette – that combination of manners, emotional intelligence and soft skills, or savoir-vivre and savoir-être, as the French say – is not learned through books, but by practice. At Glion Institute of Higher Education, our hospitality management students internalise etiquette through practical experience, including service roles on campus and professional internships completed abroad. Certain guidelines also help: Anthony Durand, our senior lecturer and manager of banqueting, events and boutiques, identifies the following six habits as prerequisites to business protocol: Be on time; Be discreet; Be courteous, pleasant and positive; Be concerned with others; Dress appropriately; and Use proper written and spoken language.
At Glion, our students develop their sense of etiquette naturally as they take on responsibilities such as serving guests in our gastronomic restaurant. They learn to look their best as they follow our business dress code daily. They are mentored by our faculty, but ultimately, it is through experience that they come to understand l’art de recevoir, the art of welcoming, and how to act appropriately in a variety of contexts.
In the business world, first impressions are particularly important. For this reason, Glion’s dedicated careers department arranges mock interviews and advises students on business etiquette ranging from appearance to body language and communication. With around 70 companies visiting campus each semester to recruit talent, students also have many opportunities to practise and polish their interview and presentation skills. Through these experiences, students develop their sense of business etiquette and gain the skills to approach interviews and meetings with confidence. Of course, etiquette is constantly evolving, influenced by shifts in technology and culture. The paper invitations sent to announce social events in the past are today often replaced by social media invites or mobile messages, and ‘netiquette’ therefore now has its own set of rules.
Meanwhile, globalisation has led to a wider appreciation of etiquette across cultures – for example, nowadays many business professionals in Europe know that in East Asian culture, they should use both hands when presenting business cards, but that awareness was less common just a decade ago. International exposure is therefore key to understanding cultural differences in business and social etiquette. At Glion, students learn alongside classmates who represent around 90 different nationalities, enabling them to exchange experiences of protocol and etiquette around the world and constantly learn from each other. Experiences studying and working abroad also provide valuable learning opportunities, which is why Glion connects students with professional internships across the globe, and students at Glion’s flagship campus in Switzerland are encouraged to spend an exchange semester at partner campuses in London, Marbella or Shanghai.
The importance of etiquette is particularly evident in multilingual, multicultural Switzerland. At global forums such as the United Nations, etiquette plays a vital role in preventing misunderstandings and ensuring that all feel welcome. From meetings to the dining table, protocol and manners pave the way for conversations to be had and decisions to be made. Far from old-fashioned, etiquette is a shared code of respect, an attitude and a lifelong skill – one from which we can all benefit.
Georgette Davey is managing director of the Glion Institute of Higher Education, a hospitality management institution with campuses in Switzerland and the UK, part of Sommet Education